In a high profile police shooting case that ended in April, the Supreme Court ruled in favor of an Arizona police officer accused of using excessive force. The case stemmed from an incident in 2010, when police were called to the victim’s house because someone reported that she was hacking a tree with a knife. When the officers approached the woman failed to drop the knife, but made no threatening movement. One officer then fired four times, severely wounding the woman. She survived and later sued the officer, claiming he used excessive force in violation of her Fourth Amendment rights under the U.S. Constitution, which protects against unreasonable searches and seizures.
The high court ultimately ruled that the officer was entitled to “qualified immunity” from civil suit, with two justices issuing a vigorous dissent. Under the doctrine of qualified immunity, police are not subject to civil lawsuits, so long as they do not violate a person’s “clearly established rights”.
Before this case reached the Supreme Court, a trial court judge dismissed the lawsuit, finding that the officer’s use of force was reasonable. The case was appealed to the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals, which reversed the ruling, saying that the record did not support the trial Judge’s determination that the woman’s conduct created a risk of imminent danger.
One of the dissentors, Justice Sonia Sotomayor, observed that the majority’s holding sends an unfortunate message that law enforcement can act first and think later, and victims have no recourse under the law. This message raises concerns of civil rights advocates and police reform, especially in the wake of high profile police shooting cases – many involving unarmed African-American males.
Critics of the decision and legal analysts have pointed out the irony that the decision makes police less accountable at the precise time that the public has become aware of the need for more accountability. If the doctrine of qualified immunity is allowed to morph into something more like an absolute immunity, time-honored remedies for constitutional violations will be at risk.
If you have been a victim of police brutality, you have rights. To learn how the experienced Pennsylvania police brutality lawyers at Williams Cedar LLC can help you, call 215-557-0099 today, or contact us online to schedule a confidential consultation. From our offices in Philadelphia and Haddonfield, New Jersey, we represent clients nationwide.